William Fox-Pitt rewrote the record books at the Fidelity Blenheim Palace international horse trials last weekend, where the Dorset-based rider triumphed in the CCI*** and became the first person ever to win 50 three-day titles.
"I've been coming to Blenheim a long time and the last three years have probably been the best runs I've ever had here so to achieve this at such a special event is a great feeling," said William, of Sturminster Newton, whose winning mount was Seacookie, a 13-year-old rerouted from the Burghley CCI**** where he was pulled up across country for "feeling rusty".
"When you have a shock like last week it makes you wake up a bit and this time I set out on the cross-country more positively," said William. "Seacookie is an experienced horse and he's very consistent but he's one that needs to run a lot and that hasn't been possible this year. I took him cross-country schooling on Tuesday and he felt fantastic in himself so I thought 'why not' – we had nothing to lose."
The Catherine Witt-owned gelding stopped the clock bang on the 10min 21sec optimum during the second phase despite losing a shoe at fence 9.
"It was early on the course and he could so easily have stood on a stone or got a bit foot sore but he pulled up well," added William who was one of only three riders to finish on his dressage mark of 39. "Seacookie has been on top form all weekend and I can't ask for more than that."
New Zealand's Mark Todd, who recently relocated to Swindon, slotted into the runner-up spot with Conair, a nine-year-old 17hh gelding he was deputising for while regular jockey Rodney Powell recovers from a knee injury.
"He tried to give me instructions which I thought were completely wrong so I ignored them," smiled Mark. "I rode Conair in an advanced [at Wellington] and that went well so we came here. He's fairly inexperienced so I didn't really know what to expect but he's a classy type who keeps trying."
Another Olympian, Tina Cook, completed the podium line up in third place on her own and Jim Chromiak's De Novo News, a nine-year-old whom Tina bred out of her 1998 British Intermediate Champion Douce De Longvaut by the Thoroughbred stallion Last News.
"He's the fifth horse I've bred from the mare and it's very exciting that he's gone so well," said Tina. "I came thinking he had a fair chance and I was hoping to be in the top 10. I've ridden him from the start and I think he has a big future ahead — he could be my next Miners Frolic."
Kitty King (Zidante), Paul Tapner (Kilronan) and Francis Whittington (Easy Target) filled fourth, fifth and sixth places respectively, these combinations rising through the ranks following an action-packed cross-country day that prompted a reshuffle of the leaderboard.
"It certainly wasn't a straightforward three-star. It was decent and I was glad to be on an experienced horse like Seacookie," said William.
The final statistics showed that 50 per cent of the 88 starters completed the Eric Winter-designed cross-country track with no jumping penalties to add and 22 horses failed to finish altogether.
Somerset-based Aussie Christopher Burton found himself in pole position following the dressage but his quest for victory was scuppered when Underdiscussion slammed on the brakes in front of the CrossCountry App Salmon Leap, an innocuous brush fence out of the second water crossing that didn't cause any other problems all day.
Beaworthy's Lucy Wiegersma was also handily placed in fourth when she set out on Simon Porloe and they survived two sticky moments. The gelding scrambled over a brush oxer at the Equi-trek Endeavour (19ab) and had to be steered around the long route before being eliminated for not passing between the flags at the Shires Equestrian Wooded Hollow, a coffin complex, two fences later.
Lucy completed and her score was reinstated following an appeal however the 12-year-old Simon Porloe, lying sixth, was withdrawn ahead of the final horse inspection due to a nasty cut on his leg.
Tiverton's Tim Cheffings finished just shy of the top 40 with the eye-catching Colby II, the spotted gelding having picked up 20 penalties at the Abingdon and Witney College bar to corner (24ab) which prompted problems for 10 combinations.
This fence became the most influential during the eight- and nine-year-old CIC***, a class that was headed by New Zealand's Andrew Nicholson on Quimbo.
"He's been advanced since he was seven so he's more experienced than most horses in this," said Andrew. "He's very easy to ride and although we've had a few cross-country blips in the past I've learned to let him bowl on, which suits him."
William Fox-Pitt finished in the prizes again, netting second place aboard Bay My Hero.
"I wanted him to have a good run before going to Pau for his first four-star and he has," said William.
Izzy Taylor was third on KBIS Starchaser while Germany's Bettina Hoy filled third aboard Designer 10.